EPA watchdog investigating toxic mine spill in Colorado

Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colorado, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Officials have said that federal contractors accidentally released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater laden with heavy metals last week at the Gold King Mine near Silverton. The pollution flowed downstream to New Mexico and Utah. | AP Photo by Brennan Linsley, St. George News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the cause of a massive spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine that unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into rivers that supply water to at least three states.

The inspector general’s office said the investigation also will focus on the EPA’s response to the Aug. 5 spill from the defunct Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado

EPA and contract workers accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater as they inspected the idled mine. The spill released heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury into a tributary of the Animas River, turning the river sickly yellow and raising concerns about long-term environmental damage.

Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo., Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Officials have said that federal contractors accidentally released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater laden with heavy metals last week at the Gold King Mine near Silverton. The pollution flowed downstream to New Mexico and Utah. | AP Photo by Brennan Linsley, St. George News
Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colorado, Aug. 14, 2015 | AP Photo by Brennan Linsley, St. George News

The spill affected rivers that supply water for drinking, recreation and irrigation in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, as well as the Navajo Nation.

A diluted toxic plume reached Lake Powell, a huge reservoir 300 miles downstream that feeds the Colorado River and supplies water to the Southwest.

The inspector general’s office said the investigation comes in response to a congressional request.

Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the EPA’s response as slow and overly cautious. Leaders of oversight committees in both the House and Senate say they are planning hearings after Congress returns from its August recess.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said her agency takes full responsibility for the accident and expressed deep sorrow for the environmental harm caused to the Animas and San Juan rivers.

McCarthy traveled to Colorado and New Mexico last week following bipartisan pressure from congressional delegations in the two states. Lawmakers from Utah, Arizona and other Western states also have blasted the EPA for a response many call insufficient.

“Among the most basic and simple questions that Coloradans want answered after the Gold King Mine spill are, ‘What is in the water?’ and ‘Is it safe?’” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said last week.

Bennet called the EPA’s initial response to the spill “too slow and inadequate” and said testing for water quality and sediment levels was proceeding too slowly.

A spokeswoman for the EPA declined to comment Monday. But McCarthy said in Colorado last week that her agency will conduct internal reviews and hire an outside agency to conduct an independent review.

“No agency could be more upset about the incident happening, more dedicated about doing our job and getting this right,” McCarthy said. Mine remediation operations throughout the country are being scrutinized to ensure they are being safely performed, she said.

There are about 500,000 abandoned mines nationwide. The EPA has estimated the cost of cleaning up abandoned mines nationwide, not including coal mines, at between $20 billion and $54 billion.

Officials in New Mexico have lifted water restrictions for the Animas and San Juan rivers imposed after the spill. The San Juan flows into the Animas and also was polluted.

Colorado has reopened the Animas River to boating, while Utah has allowed San Juan River water to be used for crop irrigation and livestock.

Meanwhile, the EPA released new data for contamination in the San Juan River between Farmington and Shiprock, New Mexico.

The highest sample for total lead was 250 parts per billion on Aug. 8 west of Farmington, where the San Juan flows into Navajo lands, the agency said. That’s five times the federal drinking water standard for humans.

The Navajo Nation is waiting for test results from its own Environmental Protection Agency before deciding whether to declare the San Juan River safe for use. Navajo President Russell Begaye has advised tribal members not to let livestock drink from the river and to shut off irrigation systems fed by the river, but the tribe has not physically barred anyone from accessing the water.

Spokesman Mihio Manus said officials have drawn samples from the part of the river that runs through the northern portion of the reservation, but he wasn’t sure when tests would be complete.

By: MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

Associated Press writers Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Michael Biesecker in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Related posts

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

 

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

20 Comments

  • fun bag August 18, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    shame on those liberals for trying to clean up these mines. These mines aren’t hurting anyone. why can’t those mean old liberals just leave the poor things alone?!

    • native born new mexican August 18, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      I told you before fun bag this situation is nothing to joke about. Your attempt at humor is in very bad taste. They were not cleaning up the mine. They were stupidly messing around with the mine. Their words of I am sorry are very hollow. You are not affected by this tragedy therefore you think there is humor in it is that it? This is how funny the people affected by this spill think it is.
      http://www.kob.com/article/stories/S3881454.shtml?cat=504#.VdPhU_lViko
      This is not a liberal verses republican problem this is total rotten incompetence and corruption in the government. They don’t give a rat’s back end for the people they abuse and hurt and steal from. R party and D party are just names the crooks hide behind. They are the worst kind of people.

      • Bender August 19, 2015 at 1:05 am

        I’m trying to image living in your world “NATIVE BORN NEW MEXICAN”. A place where up is down and white is black.
        .
        Wait, I know what’s up! It’s NATIVE BORN NEW MEXICAN ‘s opposite day. Now it all makes sense. I guess…

        • Brian August 19, 2015 at 8:07 am

          NBNM happens to be correct on this. Things were fairly stable with the mine compared to what the EPA caused, and after years of trying to turn it into a half-billion dollar superfund site (unsuccessfully) they just waltzed in and pulled the plug out, without considering what would happen if they did. A local (to the mine) geologist with 47 years experienced laid out their playbook a week before they did it and predicted the disaster (http://www.silvertonstandard.com/news.php?id=847). The EPA ~IS~ corrupt, you accept the government at face value (the Fed is looking out for our financial needs, the EPA is looking out for the environment, the IRS fairly and honestly collects taxes, etc, etc), so his comment seems odd, but it’s right on the money (literally).

          • Bender August 19, 2015 at 3:45 pm

            EPA has its good days and its bad days, just like any large bureaucracy. The important question is: are we better off with or without it? Improvements in clean air, clean water and clean soil have not happened in the absence of regulation. Industry does a mostly poor job of self regulation. The paranoid right-wing narrative is that the EPA is the boogeyman that kills jobs, economies and lives. Nonsense! You are being played by irresponsible industry executives and stockholders who want to transfer one of the costs of doing business — cleaning up after themselves — from private industry to the public at large. This mine disaster would not exist if someone hadn’t walked away without remediation.
            .
            Go ahead and play the dead ender with no plan other than to shut down government. You’re not proposing a solution to the problem, you’re just venting your spleen. You, and the politicians you support, disavow government and therefore have no interest in fixing it. You’ll get no argument from me if you say federal bureaucracy is bloated, wasteful and in need of fixing. Where you lose me is when you claim it just needs to be shut down and then we’ll all live in paradise.

          • fun bag August 19, 2015 at 5:10 pm

            Brian has his good days and his bad. Some days he’s reasonable and other days he’s off the wall kooky to the extreme. Brian operates under the illusion that a lot of other hard-right-wingers do that private industry/business can do no wrong and needs no regulation…

          • Brian August 20, 2015 at 3:12 pm

            I’m opposed to corruption, not government. That means I’m also opposed to many corporations and the fact that they’re in bed with (or pulling the strings of) politicians. I’m opposed to federal government corruption, state government corruption, local government corruption, and business corruption. Part of corruption is straying way outside of the stated purpose and proper role. The states created the federal government to do A, B, and C, but instead the vast majority of their time is spent seizing power and doing X, Y, and Z. I oppose it anywhere I see it. I’m a conservative, but I’m very opposed to the Utah GOP (corrupt) and both parties in DC (corrupt). I’m a conversationalist (not an environmentalist, who worship the environment), but oppose the EPA much of the time because it’s a bloated, corrupt, inconsistent, and overbearing organization that doesn’t even stay close to staying within its mandate.

      • sagemoon August 19, 2015 at 9:16 am

        I have to agree with NBNM on this issue.

      • fun bag August 19, 2015 at 5:15 pm

        I’ll ask you the same question I asked before. If the locals didn’t want EPA coming in then why didn’t they take care of the problem themselves? And don’t pretend there wasn’t a problem. When the last mine operation left all they did was blockade the opening and allow the empty shafts to fill with water. You think it was all just gonna be fine if left alone? And it wasn’t an attempt at humor, it was just pointing out more right wing hypocrisy (there never seems to be an end to it)

        • fun bag August 19, 2015 at 5:16 pm

          This was for Native here,,,,

          • native born new mexican August 19, 2015 at 9:48 pm

            I said before fun bag the mine is 100 years old. This is not a modern, recently caused problem. The EPA caused the mine to flood in order to create the problem that has happened for it’s self serving reasons. The water backed up in the mine because of the EPA’s actions. Read the information Brian posted. The EPA did this on purpose. Bad, bad EPA!

          • Bender August 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

            Complete and utter nonsense NATIVE BORN NEW MEXICAN.

  • Bender August 18, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Mine/Yours – > http://i.imgur.com/3TSUfIP.jpg

    • Roy J August 18, 2015 at 7:37 pm

      Dang…BENDER backhand has improved exponentially…XD

    • Boogeyman August 19, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      Seems our friend “Bender” is quite busy on yahoo, too. He is not hard to find. He goes by the name of Bender (hee hee). And he comments very, very, very often. Just check out any story on the LDS religion, like the recent one from Rueters. Amazingly enough, many of his comments match up with many “other” posters on this site. Coincidence?

      • Dexter August 20, 2015 at 5:03 am

        So what he goes by the name BENDER.. Blah Blah Blah and so on and so on and yada yada this and yada yada that

      • Bender August 20, 2015 at 12:14 pm

        You got your BENDERs confused BOOGEYMAN. This BENDER is BENDER only on stgeorgeutah.com. Any other BENDERs are BENDERs operating as BENDER independent of this BENDER. BENDER hopes that this BENDER clarification resolves any confusion concerning BENDERs using the name BENDER.

        • ladybugavenger August 20, 2015 at 2:04 pm

          Bender for Secretary of State!

        • sagemoon August 20, 2015 at 3:36 pm

          LOL Love your explanation!

  • Dexter August 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT.!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.